Since acquiring On2 Technologies in 2010, Google has been waging a battle to unseat the popular h.264 video codec with VP8, a technology it acquired with the On2 acquisition that it intends to release as open-source, royalty-free software. At issue is the cost and ubiquity of video online and in phones and mobile devices.
Video codecs encode and decode video and audio date for more efficient streaming and to reduce storage requirements. Few people care about how they work, and the patent cost of codecs is generally transparent to users and equipment buyers. The h.264 codec’s wide adoption has accompanied the huge growth of online video, and the companies that embed h.264 in DVDs and Blu-Ray discs and disc players, web browsers, video cameras, and mobile phone processors pay royalties to MPEG LA, which licenses a pool of patent.
Last month, Google quietly reached an agreement with MPEG LA that results in 11 of the 12 companies claiming VP8 infringes their existing video codec patents dropping those claims, leaving only Nokia still challenging VP8 patents and refusing to license under any terms.
Meanwhile, Google has been starting to bring VP8 and its VP9 successor to the Motion Picture Expert Group (MPEG) working group International Organization for Standardization(ISO) to work toward its acceptance as a standard and to argue for its inclusion as a codec in WebRTC—Web Real-Time Communication, the project to enable browser-to-browser real-time communications. Big players Cisco, Microsoft and Apple offered resistance, throwing their weight behind requiring only the h.264 codec, which they already have deployed in lots of non-browser and even non-web video devices, often with hardware acceleration.
This can seem like a lot of inside football for the messaging professional, but it can shape the cost and diversity of future video and voice messaging devices on the one hand versus WebRTC interoperability with the video system or telepresence suites already in use by your organization. The costs associated with h.264 licensing will help keep the deployment of certain sorts of video products and platforms in the hands of larger players who can afford the licensing. More nimble players pursuing edge uses of video may be shut out. But leaving VP8 out of the WebRTC also means that that new WebRTC app or device will be able to send and receive video from your existing telepresence suite.
Nonetheless, the open-source advocates are plowing ahead: VP8 may not be required, but it already is supported for plugin-free display of video in the Chrome and Firefox browsers as well as Chrome for Android, as well as in Android devices—making up nearly 2 billion endpoints, according to Justin Uberti at Google